Rathfinny Wine Estate

Our first award!

It’s been another lovely week at Rathfinny with the sun shining high in the sky. We are thrilled to have been awarded our first award, the Sussex Heritage Award – design for the future, respect for the past – for our Gun Room. Congratulations are especially due to Martin Swatton and Anthony Sherwin who worked collaboratively to create the fine building we now have on the Tye. Do come along as see what we have to offer in the shop, where we’re now doing delicious take away coffees, and what is on show upstairs in the Heritage Centre.


On another note, (literally!) Emily and I have been planning our programme for next year’s concerts with London Conchord Ensemble. Make a note in your diaries now of the date – June 12th – 14th 2015 – as tickets will go fast. Every session will be completely different from the opening night on the Friday through to the Gala evening on the Saturday, interspersed with a morning coffee concert, an educational session, a piano recital and much, much more. Watch this space!


Talking of events you can now book our Estate Tours online. Here’s an extract from a satisfied customer who went on one of our Tea Tours,


            “thank you for the brilliant time we had at Rathfinny’s last Saturday. The whole experience was uplifting, informative and motivational. We enjoyed the first class tea and thank you for sharing Mr and Mrs Drivers awe inspiring vision/reality with us.”


Thank you for those kind words.


Finally, I was given a card the other day with the words that I have seen before, but which always make me smile! I shall have to start working on my quote for our Sussex Sparkling!


“I drink champagne when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with if if I’m not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise I never touch it – unless I’m thirsty.” Lily Bollinger


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It’s flowering time in the Rathfinny vineyard

As Wimbledon fortnight is about to start I have finally found something in common with my 23-year-old son. We both want nice hot dry sunny weather. He wants it because he’s working as a court coverer on number one court, lucky chap, and as long as it’s dry he gets to sit around and watch the tennis all day, and get paid – who calls that work? I want it because our young vines are about to flower and rain would mean poor flowering and what’s called fruit set.


Some of our young vines have some decent inflorescence (a cluster of flowers on the cane) and as long as the weather holds the flowers will be out over the next week or so. Vines flowers are wind pollinated so rely on a gentle breeze to move the pollen from stamen to stigma (remember your biology lessons). If it rains the pollen gets washed away and we end up less of the flowers in the cluster being pollenated, ie ‘poor fruit set’ and then we get less grapes.


So let’s hope that Wimbledon fortnight is nice and dry and warm. Then we might have a good crop this year.

Court coverer

Oh and the court coverers can watch the tennis (that’s him in the middle).

Mark Driver

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Classical concerts in a Winery?

When we designed the Winery we hadn’t thought that it might host a classical concert, but last Wednesday the London Conchord Ensemble, a world-renowned chamber orchestra who played at the Proms last year, entertained a packed house with the most fantastic programme of music including a surprise piece, written by Frank Bridge who for a time lived in Friston, just across the Cuckmere.


I have to say that it was a brilliant evening – the acoustics are really very good, clear, crisp, some might say lively, but even at the back of the winery you could hear every note. They played a fantastic programme, which included works by Pierné, Elgar, Beethoven’s variations on Là Ci Darem La Mano from Mozart’s Opera ‘Don Giovanni’ and ended with Schubert’s ‘The Trout’.


The audience, who enjoyed a glass of Sussex Sparkling during the interval, were asked to guess the mystery piece and although several surmised that it might be Frank Bridge no one guessed the exact name of the composition, “Cradle Song”. We wonder if he wrote it about Cradle Valley where Rathfinny is based?

Anyway a date for the diary – we are hosting a classical music festival at Rathfinny on 12-14th June 2015.

Don’t miss it.

Mark Driver – still humming.

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My secret is out!

Just a very quick blog in what is already shaping up to be a busy week.  I’ll say nothing about Mark reaching his 50th birthday – but suffice it to say that I shall be happy when he finally joins me in the same decade of age!

Sarah in the vines

We are really excited about our concert on Wednesday when the London Conchord Ensemble play at Rathfinny [ http://www.rathfinnyestate.com/events/ ].  We still have a few tickets left but they are selling fast. Booking taken at the Gun Room!

London Conchord at radio3Here is a picture of them playing at Radio 3 yesterday.

If you missed it, you can catch it on iPlayer  http://bbc.in/1p5nJNN and hear what they had to say and play. Described as an Ensemble “Supergroup” because of the distinction of each and every one of the players, they discussed their new association with the Rathfinny Wine Estate.

Unfortunately when asked about whose idea it had been to team up, Emily Pailthorpe of the oboe had to confess how it came about.  Emily and I have a ‘guilty secret’ that goes back more than 10 years.  We love quilting and met years ago at a local quilting group where we lowered the average age to about 75!  The peace of sewing was complimented by the wonderful older ladies who shared their wisdom of the world and somehow put the stresses of being young mums into context.  Emily and I have continued to quilt, snatching stolen hours when we can, just to pause and reflect and enjoy each other’s company.

Emily has watched Rathfinny develop as I have watched the London Conchord Ensemble grow in stature over the years, culminating in their performance at the Proms last year.  When I talked about Rathfinny being more than just a vineyard, where culture, music and art have space and where we share our journey with others, especially children, Emily knew what I meant.  The Ensemble had been looking for somewhere to call their home and so, what started as a gentle friendship, has developed into a really exciting partnership.

I do hope you will be able to join us on Wednesday, but if not, put the weekend date in your diary for next year – 12th – 14th June 2015.

Sarah Driver – Secret Quilter

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Disgorging Sparkling Wine

Jonathan Médard and I spent a couple of days this week in Champagne looking at disgorging equipment at various wineries.

Neck Freezer

When sparkling wine is made in the ‘traditional method’ or Champagne style, the secondary fermentation, to put the bubbles in the wine, takes place in the bottle. So the wine is ‘bottle fermented’ as opposed to Prosecco where the secondary fermentation takes place in a large tank and then bottles are filled with the fizzy wine from the tank (the Charmat method), like Coca-Cola.

To get the bubbles in the wine you need to add a little yeast and a bit of sugar to the wine which then ferments in the bottle creating CO2 (fizz) and a little more alcohol.

You may ask what are the benefits of making ‘bottle fermented’ sparkling wine? The main one is that the bubbles are finer and so they last longer in the glass. You also get wonderful flavours from the yeast when it’s in contact with the wine in the bottle. This process is called ‘autolysis’ and the longer you leave the wine in contact with the ‘yeast lees’ the better, up to a point.  Prosecco, in large vats, doesn’t have the same yeast contact and therefore does not have the depth and complexity of flavour that bottle fermented wine has.

However, after the secondary fermentation you are left with ‘yeast lees’ in the bottle, which you need to remove. Historically this was done by an army of men, ‘Les Remueurs’, who laboured in dark cellars turning the bottles a small amount everyday until they got the yeast into the neck of the bottle.

cloudy wine            le Remuer

Thankfully it is not done like that any longer. We now have machines that ‘riddle’ about five hundred bottles at time over a week.

Riddling machines

But once the yeast is in the neck of the bottle you need to remove it.

robots 1

That is done by freezing the neck of the bottle and allowing that frozen yeast plug out of the bottle and this is called disgorging or in French, dégorgement.


As we move towards making out first bottles of Sussex Sparkling we need to start making decisions about how we store our wine and what sort of disgorging equipment we need.  Hence the trip to Champagne.

storage 1

Storage is going to be our biggest challenge as we are keen to store our wine in the bottle ‘on lees’ for a minimum of three years. So eventually we need storage capacity for approximately four million bottles! Do we use simple cages or riddling cages which can go straight into the riddling machine but cost more and take up more room? We are yet to decide but we found that most cellars are now using robotic arms to load and unload cages and whilst this automation is efficient and doesn’t tire or need a coffee break, it doesn’t come cheap! Don’t tell Sarah.

Robotics 2

I have to say that the Champenoise were so welcoming and happy to impart knowledge of what worked or didn’t work for them when disgorging wine. It is truly amazing how open and friendly everyone in Champagne has been to us.

Now we need to work out the design for the storage, bottling, disgorgement and labeling operation that we will need in three years time.

Roll on summer….

Mark Driver

PS  Sadly Mark decided to share 300 photos of his ‘exciting’ trip to Champagne – just how many metal cages can one girl look at and sound interested (?) – but not the fact of the vast expense involved!  Sarah

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Harvest Labour

Labour will always be an issue in vineyards, it’s not limited to the UK but a worldwide problem.

By their inherent nature, vineyards are labour intensive. Sure there are ways to mechanise certain aspects of the vineyard year, however a lot of the work still needs to be done by hand.  Remember, for sparkling wine, all our grapes will be hand picked!


It is a worldwide phenomenon that the manual vineyard work is done by a migrant workforce. Mexican’s cross the border to work in the US and Canada, Pacific Islanders, Asians, and Indians in Australia and New Zealand, and Southern Europe’s vineyards are full of people from the North African nations.

The UK has traditionally been similar to other Northern European wine producing nations in using predominantly Eastern European migrants. While not all vineyards have a migrant workforce, many and in particular the larger scale operations have relied heavily on the available labour pool from Romania, Poland, Lithuania, etc.

There is a reason for this ……..

An example from a labour provider in the horticultural sector is a perfect way of explaining the phenomenon:

In 2013 they (Horticulture staff agency) advertised 43 roles on the Job Centre Plus website between March and June

  • 1000 click throughs and 90 expressions of interest
  • 11 applications and 11 interviews
  • 4 no shows, 6 jobs offered and appointed, 1 not prepared to ‘commute’
  • Of the 6 appointed: 1 dismissed, 2 left the job, 3 still in posts

That’s a total of 3 people in work out of 1,000 that looked at the job, for 43 roles!

People often wonder why there are immigrants coming into the country “taking” all the jobs.  It’s because the local population of unemployed are generally unwilling to do this work, as it’s very seasonal manual work.

This is not the only issue; high areas of agricultural/horticultural/and viticultural work correspond with low Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) claimant counts. For us, the number of people on JSA in both Eastbourne and Brighton are dropping, and are both well below the national average, which means there just aren’t the number of people out there that will do this work.

So we need to search further afield for our seasonal labour force.

Harvest for vineyards is late September/early October, dependent on the season and lasts for four to six weeks.

So what we are looking for is good people willing to put in some graft over the harvest, in all weather conditions. Yes it will be hard, yes it will be long days, but it is rewarding, both financially and morally. We even have accommodation for 46 people and can pick you up from the local station!

Please get in touch with us if you are interested.  We really do want to try and employ a UK workforce if we can.

If you’re interested, send your details to – info@rathfinnyestate.com

Cameron Roucher – Vineyard Manager

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Bubbles and Ballast

Since my last blog it has been a hugely eventful time for Rathfinny Wine Estate. Mark has already described the opening of the Winery by Dr Vincent Cable and I don’t think that could have gone any better.  Mark really pulled in some favours to ensure the sun shone and the wind subsided so all our guests could utilise the veranda and marvel at the expanse of vines!


Soil all removed and ready for stone

Those bubbles were swiftly put to one side as I was soon requested to meet with our contractors constructing our new access road. Geological percolation and compaction tests aren’t new to me, but the peculiarities of C30 or C35 concrete, ACO drains and bonded expansion joints have been a wonderful learning curve.

Stepping back a bit, I think it is important to state that this new road was put forward for planning permission due to the unsafe nature of our current track. Not merely the steepness of the current track but more importantly, how it meets the main B-road between Seaford and Alfriston. Working in close partnership with the South Downs National Park Authority, who are our planning authority, we were able to design a scheme which suited our needs and fitted into the undulating and sinuous landscape.

Trees had to be protected, archaeologists were required to excavate the entire area, a new landscaping scheme was approved, concrete samples assessed and health and safety protocols were duly adhered to. And only then, could Woollards commence the actual construction.


So the Romans were here! A small section of pot but no gold coins

The concreting has gathered a pace and should be finished in the next week or so (weather dependent) and then we can start with the sympathetic landscaping. This will entail some ‘gapping up’ of the current wooded area with some native saplings and then some larger native specimen trees to semi line the road. These trees will not form a full avenue as the main attraction as you enter the new road will be the vines. At the moment the field is sown with mustard, which is our break crop and natural compost provider, but early next year the vines will be planted.


A rare species on the Downs – JCB doublediggerus


Concrete – nice.

This week I dispensed with my steel toe caps to take on the role of ‘wing man’ with Georgia, as we hosted our first delegate day. An eclectic international mix of delegates had a tour and tasting on their first day and then returned the following day for a full agenda of board meetings.   They did manage to stop proceedings for some fresh fruit mid-morning and chef’s delicious locally sourced lunch menu and even a wee cheeky cake in the afternoon. I may be biased, but what a wonderful location to hold a board meeting or seminar.



Richard James

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The Winery is officially open

It was bright sunny day at Rathfinny on Friday 14th May when we welcomed the Rt.Hon.Dr Vincent Cable MP to officially open our Winery.

Dr Cable had stopped half-way up our track to give one of our neighbours a lift and he arrived, without pomp or ceremony, driving his own car, with John Webb in the passenger seat.


We had invited various friends and neighbours from the local area to join us to celebrate the opening of the Winery and the beginning of the next phase for Rathfinny. Now the Winery is ready, for what we hope will be a small harvest this year, and the Flint Barns and the new entrance way are nearing completion, we are moving on from what I consider was the investment stage onto the fun part – making wine.

Dr Cable on Bund

So after teas and coffees and brief speeches Dr Cable revealed a plaque commemorating the occasion.


We then went on a tour of the Winery and we had a delicious lunch in the Winery Tasting Room.


It was a brilliant day and great way to celebrate all that has been achieved over the last three and half years at the Rathfinny Wine Estate.

Rathfinny 5

Thank you guys

Mark and Sarah Driver

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Crystals in your wine sir?

As Mark and I are planning a visit to Champagne soon to look at bottling, disgorging and labelling equipment, I am still wondering what method and which equipment I will be using to “cold stabilise” the wines, to ensure that tartrate crystals do not appear. Remember, crystals in a sparkling wine usually mean that as you open the bottle you’ll lose half of it because it’s going to gush.

Previously we looked at electro-dialysis, which, in my opinion, is a proven, efficient method (colleagues around the world agree). The machine is quite simple to use, and as long as it is properly set up, it should function without problem. One downfall to this method, however, is that it requires a lot of water.

Nowadays, more than ever, wineries are dedicated to act responsibly and in a sustainable way. Sustainability involves water conservation. England might not be suffering from an enduring drought as California has lately, but water is still a resource that needs to be used sensibly. Electro-dialysis also requires energy in order to run (i.e. electricity).

More and more, producers are now using CMC (Carboxymethyl Cellulose) for cold stabilisation. It is cellulose gum, which is a natural compound originally found in wood’s cellulose.

If you are conscientious about what you ingest, you might have seen the food additive E466 somewhere on a label. That’s CMC, used as a thickener and emulsifier—possibly in other ways too.

CMC, after bench trials in the lab, gets added to the wine and modifies the structure of the crystals, inhibiting further crystallisation. Thus far, it has proven to be quite efficient, provided that proper testing of both the composition of the wine and the amount of CMC to add was adequately performed.

CMC may well prove an effective, cost efficient, alternative to electro-dialysis for the cold stabilisation of sparkling wine—I am eager to test this as soon as we can.

Jonathan Médard – Winemaker

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Classical Music at Rathfinny – London Concord Ensemble

I am so excited about our latest venture at Rathfinny. I have always seen a real link between wine and the arts and am therefore delighted to announce that the London ‘supergroup,’ London Conchord Ensemble, http://www.conchord.co.uk have agreed to become our resident chamber ensemble.

For their debut here, we are presenting an exciting Gala evening of sparkling wine and music, in our brand new Winery set in the heart of the vineyard, the full details of which you’ll find here  – http://www.rathfinnyestate.com/events/

Winery and Vineyard

I have worked closely with world famous oboist, Emily Pailthorpe, to put this all together. We went to see her great friends, David and Mary Bowerman, who have established one of Britain’s most prestigious chamber music venues and recording hall, Champs Hill. Mary was a wealth of advice and knowledge and kindly treated us to lunch. We were invited to sit in on part of an afternoon recording session, surrounded by exquisite art, and it brought home to me how magical live classical music can be. Mark, Emily and I completed our concert hall tour by visiting Douglas and Miranda Patterson who put on concerts at Cranbourne Farm and they too, were so helpful. Both visits opened our eyes to what was possible at Rathfinny.

The thought of being able to host world-class music in our Winery was tantalising but we still didn’t know if the acoustics would work. So it was with some nervousness that we stood back and waited as Emily unpacked her oboe, stood in front of the picture window overlooking the vines and then began to play. I can only describe the effect of her music floating to the high winery roof as spine tingling. We are in for a real treat when she plays here as part of the London Concord Ensemble. There was a collective “Hurrah!” to the Winery’s beautiful acoustics!

Looking ahead, the plan is for Conchord to present a weekend festival of chamber music every June. Ideas are already afoot for celebrating famous local composers, wine themed programmes, a collaboration to commemorate the ties between Bloomsbury and music, educational workshops for the young and also guest performances by some of classical music’s most dynamic stars. Watch this space for a full programme soon.

In the meantime, we really look forward to seeing you at our first major event – come and be part of it and enjoy a a feast of chamber music whilst you sup a class of English sparkling wine, standing on the balcony of our brand new Winery, on the 11th June.

Sarah Driver

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Huge progress at Rathfinny

So I have to admit, I’ve been away on holiday sailing in the Caribbean. Many of you will be aware that last year I fulfilled a lifelong ambition and sailed across the Atlantic. As our boat was in the Caribbean it seemed foolish not go and explore the islands, so over the last few weeks we explored the islands of Antigua, St.Kitts, Nevis and Barbuda. We returned on Monday and drove through Sussex under bright blue skies to see what had happened at the Rathfinny Wine Estate.

Planting above the Flint Barns

Whilst away, Cameron oversaw the planting of a further 70,000 vines to the west of the Flint Barns. They look fantastic and the warm spring weather has led to an early bud-burst, as the vines break into life for the year.

Bud Burst 2014

The temporary windbreaks have already proved their worth. The trees in the shelter belts are thriving (see the picture above), and you can see a real difference in the vines, especially those closest to the windbreaks.

As you may have read in a recent blog by Richard James we are now working with the universities of Lincoln (NZ) and Sussex to develop the right biodiversity within the vineyard to help reduce disease risk and increase beneficial insects. Richard is also overseeing the building of the new entrance which has really moved on and is nearly at the road. We will all be pleased when we no longer have to deal with a 1:3 gradient on a blind corner!

Work on the Flint Barns has been very impressive – our contractor, Cardy’s, was held up by the poor weather earlier this year, but they are now working flat out to try and complete the building in time to the accommodate seasonal workers needed for our expected harvest this year.

Happy Easter to all – enjoy the spring weather and don’t grumble about the rain, we need that as well!

Mark Driver

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Doesn’t time fly?

So, this is a (personal) milestone in blogging for me.  I have now been an employee here at Rathfinny Wine Estate for 12 months.  So what have I done in this time?  (Faint cry from the cheap seats of “not a lot”)

It’s been a whirl wind time of non-stop work where I have been able to utilise my skills and also learn new ones a plenty.  I won’t bore you with the details of my day to day routine, but while I have your undivided attention, I would like to propose that you watch this space for future research from me in the vineyard.  Because, while Cameron, Jamie and Jonathan were shaking hands with Royalty, I was meeting ecological ‘royalty’ in the form of Professor Steve Wratten from New Zealand.  It is early days yet, but in conjunction with Steve and hopefully Professor Dave Goulson* from Sussex University, I’m assessing the best way to enhance native biological gain in our vineyard to improve invertebrates (little critters) which will benefit our vines.  Watch this space and follow me on twitter (@rathfinnyrich) for regular updates.

For those followers of this blog, you may remember a post about the birth of our triplets entitled “Rollercoaster Ride”.  Well, I’m not sure what ticket we purchased but it’s now six months on and the ride shows no sign of stopping or indeed slowing down.  The question my Rock* and I get asked is “what’s it like and how do you do it”.  Firstly, we are not alone.  There are others out there who have triplets and even more!


The one word that sums it up is relentless.  Relentless feeding, relentless nappy changing and relentless washing to put away!  The numbers game – 560 nappies a month, 900 wipes every 2 weeks, 65kgs of formula(!) and 2016hrs of feeding (12hrs per day – do the math?).

However, the most important and crucial number of all.  We now have 4 beautiful and healthy children.

They are all sitting up, rolling around, giggling, smiling, defecating, laughing and squawking.  Often in the morning before I leave for work, I would put my money on the fact that we had produced three pterodactyls from all the noise emanating from their room.

The lack of sleep has been painful.  The continuous rounds of feeding have been endless.  The Rock has stood her ground and not waivered, purely because, just when you are at your lowest, covered in baby slime, surrounded by washing, still in your pj’s and a six year old that wants to play hula hoop with you – one of the triplets will smile or giggle.  Priceless.


My personal bug bear – if you’re reading this and you’re local, and you see me and my Rock with the tribe, please come over and chat and ask all the questions you wish.  It gets rather off putting when people just point and assume because we have triplets we miraculously became deaf at the same time – “oooo, that man has three babies, do you think they are all his……or…….wow, three babies I couldn’t do that, how could you?….”

So, come September I’ll be able to provide you all with a 12mth tribe update.  And hopefully by then I will have put that final basket of washing away and conquered the hula hoop.


(If washing is not put away, then more of the tribe will end up wearing the Rock’s knickers!)

Must go now and count critters between the vines…..

Ed – *Dave Goulson – author of incredible book entitled “Sting in the Tale”.

*the Rock – aka my fantastic and beautiful wife and mother to 4 wonderful children



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Not your usual day

I often say how varied the work in a vineyard can be, however this week I had a day that was quite unlike any other.

The day started like an ordinary day, heading down to the barn, to make sure the guys knew what they are doing for the day. Most of the team were off at a Biodiversity class learning about how we can benefit the vineyard through the use of host plants. So the remaining crew were left to do a bit of trellis repair work, as it was quite a pleasant morning not too cold with a bit of sun breaking through the clouds.

I left them to it as Jamie, Jonathan and I were representing Rathfinny at the opening of the UK Wine Research Centre at Plumpton College, and in particular the Rathfinny Research Winery. Not exactly my usual attire but I needed to get into my suit. Just as I was about to change I get a phone call….um the tractor’s PTO (power take off unit) won’t engage. A quick dash back to the barns to see what the problem was, pull half the dash off the tractor and after a lot of cursing the Italians that made the tractor, eventually the PTO was back up and running. It’s amazing that such a crucial piece of a tractor is held together with the tiniest split pin, smaller and less robust than my daughter’s hairpins! So crisis averted.

This time I got my suit on without interruptions.

The Plumpton Wine Research facility was opened by the Duchess Of Cornwall, quite fitting really as she grew up in the area and is the Patron of both Plumpton College and The UK Vineyards Association. We all were introduced to her, which was a bit nerve racking as there is a host of things to remember; what you should and shouldn’t say, and should and shouldn’t do. Luckily Jonathan and I weren’t deported for breaching Royal protocol, and I think Jamie still hasn’t washed his hand yet!


So thanks to donors such as Mark and Sarah, the UK now has a top research facility, which the UK wine industry needs. This will help the industry grow as every new and exciting industry needs a strong research institution behind it. Plumpton College is that centre of excellence in the cool climate wine region of England.

So after spending the best part of a day with the high flyers of the English Wine industry and HRH, the tail end of the day was spent trying to communicate to a Romanian truck driver who had no, and I mean no English whatsoever. He had to do a half hour detour (to avoid going through Alfriston) to get to where he needed to be, to unload our vines for this years planting. So I led him on the detour, then I was unloading vines on the forklift – in the snow/sleet and hail.

Yes, that’s right, it seems that every time we decide to plant vines the weather turns. We are planting another 20 ha of vines in a couple of weeks time. Everything is prepared and ready to go. Vines are now on site, posts, wire, and everything else we need for the next stage of the vineyard is here.


The existing vineyard has just started to show signs of life with the first buds starting to move, we should have budburst properly in a couple of weeks time, so here’s hoping for some nice weather.

So that sums up a not so typical day in the vineyard.

Cameron Roucher – Vineyard Manager

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Thinking about wine storage

We are starting to work on the next phase of Rathfinny’s development, and one of the most important projects involves the storage of wine whilst it matures on the yeast lees in the bottle.

Between bottling the wine and disgorging, the bottled wine will be stored in cages. They are literally metallic cages, each approximately one metre long, one metre wide, one metre high. Each cage holds 504 standard bottles, and the cages are stackable, which is rather practical for storage.


Imagine this: when the vineyard is completely developed, the plan is to produce 1 million bottles a year. That means, we’ll have to store about 2000 cages for the first peak year. Say that our stacks are 5 cages high, it would require 400 stacks that would occupy a floor space of 400m2.. But we need to be able to move these cages, and separate the different types of wine: we’ll have to create alleys to allow for forklift traffic, and leave a bit of space to work around. Maybe an additional 30% space would be useful. This ups the floor space requirement to 520m2. Assuming a square room, it would have to be 23 metres by 23 metres, and 6 or 7 metres high. As we are planning on ageing the wines for about 3 years, we need 3 times this storage space. We are now at 1560m2. As one square room it would have to be 40 metres by 40 metres, at the same 7 metre height. Now, this is the minimal workable space. I’d like a bit more for operational flexibility, maybe rounding up to 1700 or 1800m2. This would be quite a large building: an 1800m2 footprint, to give a sense of scale, is 7 tennis courts. Or, if the cages were not stacked, they would cover an entire rugby pitch (don’t mention Rugby!).

Instead of using cages, we could go the old fashion way. Sur lattes, which means “on (wood) slats”, the bottles are piled with wood slats between rows to stabilise, as shown on this picture:

Sur lattes

We’d have to dig and carve caves in the chalk like producers have in Champagne, such as this one:


It would be very pretty, no? Unfortunately, I estimate it would have to be over 1.5 kilometres long…

Form versus function: which do you prefer?

Jonathan Médard – Winemaker

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Alfriston is undergoing essential mains water replacement and there is no through access from 3rd January – 30th May. Click below for alternative routes: